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Episode Info:

The navigation apps so accessible in our cars and on our phones are to me, magical. Siri, Google Maps and the like save us collectively from hundreds of thousands of lost hours each day by saving us from, well, being lost. Siri also may have saved a few relationships by sparing couples from arguing about whether or not to ask for directions. In simpler times, the all-perceptive woman might say, “Just admit it, David, you’re lost – been lost for an hour. Driving faster won’t get you unlost. Stop, please, ask for directions.” Then the man would say, “Just hold on and let me concentrate, Martha. Two more miles up here and I believe I’ll know where we are.”

Yet for all that Siri offers in real time efficiency and guidance, there are things she can’t do for you. She is not infallible. All of us have had the experience of being told “we have arrived” at our restaurant or hotel only to be welcomed by curious cows staring at us from a vast empty pasture.

The other thing we have lost with these apps is the splendid, colorful conversations we used to have with random strangers we’d ask for directions, such as the gas station attendant, the woman walking her chihuahuas down the street, or the slightly drunk guy mowing his lawn. Siri and company are economical communicators, giving you the minimum information you need for maximum clarity. Most of your random direction givers over-communicate. They give you far more information than you need.

For instance, I once asked a Deputy Sheriff, who happened to be giving me a ticket for alleged speeding, how to get to Highway 71 to Austin. He said, “Oh you don’t want to go to 71 from here. Go back two miles and take that FM road west and it’ll take you to Austin eventually. The best thing is it’ll take you by Peggy’s Cafe – just a ramshackle hut at a wide spot in the road – best peach cobbler you ever had in your life. Bucket list cobbler for sure. Take a bit of the sting out of this here ticket.”

See? Siri doesn’t have that kind of empathy, or, passion for cobbler.

Another example is when years ago, I stopped to ask a farmer on some country road near Abilene how to get to Highway 277 to San Angelo. He said, “Oh, just go down to that green house on the corner there and turn left. Go straight 3 miles, you’ll hit it.” I replied, “That house you just pointed to is actually yellow, not green.” He said, “Yeah, well it was green for 30 years. They painted it recently. We ain’t got used to it, yet. Most of us don’t care for the yellow.”

As I was about to thank him, he leaned his arms on my passenger door and said, “That house there is the Miller house. Three generations of the same family lived there and farmed that acreage. Jimbo and Carolyn after 30 years farming sold out last year, moved to Alpine and opened a bed and breakfast out there. Young couple, McGees I think, bought that house and painted it yellow. Bad decisions all around in my opinion. But not my business. Irregardless, I’ll wager right now that ten years from now that’ll still be known as the Miller house. Well, you best get goin’ ‘fore the sun sets on you.”

You see? Siri can’t give you that kind of local, social history with such authentic flare.

Finally, Siri doesn’t offer you the “gone too far” landmarks. She’ll tell you to turn around for sure, but she won’t say, “If you come to a rise in the road and see a Texas Flag gate on your left, you’ve gone too far.” Or, “If you pass over a creek, you’ve gone too far.” Or, “If the pavement turns to dirt, you’ve gone too far, but don’t try to turn around down there – with all the rain we’ve had you’ll just slide off into the bar ditch and you’ll need a wrecker to pull you out. No, just keep going till you get to the frontage road and circle back and try again.”

Siri doesn’t offer those kinds of extra, nuanced details.

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